Ezekiel has moved on. He’s over Tyre. Now he’s following the money trail down to Egypt – an admittedly touchy subject for the leadership of Jerusalem. It’s important to keep in mind that these sections on Egypt are not in chronilogical order.
There’s a lot of content here, “lotta history” as they say. So Ezekiel has to break this up into sections, much like he had to do with Tyre/Phoenicia. Seven sections to be exact. There were six prophetic sections against six other nations leading up to this point, so Egypt becomes the seventh – finishing the cycle, and as noted earlier, seven chapters are dedicated to this purpose. It is well documented that the number seven represented perfection in Hebrew writing. So we can infer from this that this completes a Perfect cycle of judgements by God.
There are many reasons given in Ezekiel chapter 29 as to why Ezekiel is the object of judgement. In fact, this chapter reads as a general summary of all the other chapters dealing with Egypt. We have two different accusations about Pharoah, we have promises of invasion by Babylon, 40 years of tribulation, the scattering of Egypt, and the general restoration of its people. It’s a whole smorgassbord of of topics.
Is this just an old grudge against Egypt resurfacing in Ezekiel’s writing? The content we have examined from Ezekiel indicates that he was reinterpreting Israel’s past to understand current events and more importantly, look to the future. Ezekiel’s purpose here is to show how Egypt is linked to the decision structure that led to the current state of captivity for the people of Israel. This will become more clear in Ezekiel chapter 31, however there are some clues in this first chapter. More on this later.
Pharoah is compared with a dragon, or water monster, of which almost all commentaries relate to the crocodile which inhabits the Nile river. An appropos analogy. But, basically verses 4-5 give us the impression that God is about to make Pharoah a “fish out of water”, hooked and then discarded in a field in the wilderness. What is important here is the reference to all the “little fish” that will be drawn up with the big fish,…little fish attached to the scales of the Dragon. That same kind of reference is used by police to decribe nefarious activity, being willing to make deals with the little fish in order to catch the big fish. So, who could these little fish be?
As in crime, it is the kind of People Who Enable the larger culprit to succeed, and at the same time profit along the way. For Pharoah, it probably was the high priests, the financial brokers, the politicians and diplomats on the take, etc. It’s the same type of human behavior that leaves us modern type people feeling – well, just as betrayed as Pharoah. And once again, it is the people who suffer and have to be redeemed.
Verse six gives us a clue that ties this section of prophecy together with the previous oracles against Tyre. Here, Egypt is compared to a “Staff of Reed” for Israel. In other words, an unreliable tool that looks like it would do the job, but ultimately crumbles or collapses under pressure. Why would Egypt need a reliable tool in the case of Egypt? This will be covered later during the exploration of Ezekiel chapter 31. But, the relationship between Jerusalem and Tyre are key to understanding this verse.
Again, there is the usual condemnation of the over self-congratulatory statements of the rulers of Egypt – comparing themselves to a God, and worse, claiming to have made the Nile. It is to this that God declares that a sword is coming for Egypt, a sword that is the special tool of God. To say it differently, the fall of Egypt’s current leadership is an ordained event by God.
Now, as mentioned before, these chapters are not in chronological order. Verse 17, is literally 17 years later than verse 1. Seventeen years of effort by Babylon to bring Jerusalem and Tyre under control. As a reward for the effort, Babylon’s army’s will revel in the plunder of Egypt. So, after failing to bring down Tyre, the war weary army turns its attention to Egypt and will succeed, indicating that Egypt was not so very strong from a military point of view; a Staff of reed indeed.